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McCarthy Pulls Back Pentagon Spending Bill, Inching Closer to a Shutdown

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McCarthy Pulls Back Pentagon Spending Bill, Inching Closer to a Shutdown

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An urgent push by Speaker Kevin McCarthy to avert a government shutdown collapsed on Thursday as he bowed to resistance from his most conservative members and abandoned an effort to bring up a Pentagon spending measure this week.

The surrender to the far right underscored the difficulties facing Mr. McCarthy as he tries to find a way to advance a series of spending bills and avoid a shutdown in two weeks, all while grasping to hold onto his post amid right-wing threats to oust him. It also illustrated his lack of influence over the far right as the opposition persisted despite his repeated urgings for lawmakers to speed approval of the funding measures to put the Republican-led House in a better bargaining position with the Democrat-controlled Senate, which on Thursday hit its first roadblock in advancing bipartisan spending legislation.

During a closed meeting of House Republicans on Thursday morning, Mr. McCarthy was adamant that Republicans needed to avoid a shutdown, according to those attending. They said he vented at members over the stalemate and issued a profane dare to those who have threatened to try to remove him as speaker if he did not accede to their demands on spending or tried to strike a spending deal with Democrats.

He also said he would keep the House in session next week until a spending breakthrough was achieved.

“I’m going to lead the conference the best way I can,” Mr. McCarthy said, according to those present, winning a standing ovation after challenging those who want to unseat him to go ahead and try, using an expletive.

As they left town after a fruitless week, other House Republicans joined Mr. McCarthy in expressing deep frustration and increasing worry that the spending logjam had them on a path to a government shutdown at the end of the month for which they were likely to shoulder the blame.

“I call it Washington’s version of Burning Man,” said Representative Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “We are stuck in the mud. But it was predictable. That’s the difference.”

The latest spending setback for House Republicans came over an $826 billion Pentagon spending measure that historically draws wide backing from both parties eager to show their support for the military. But Democrats are opposing all of the Republican bills because they deviate from a debt-ceiling agreement Mr. McCarthy struck with President Biden earlier this year and also contain numerous conservative policy provisions they oppose.

At the same time, members of a bloc of far-right Republicans have said they will not support bringing any of the 11 remaining spending bills to the floor until they receive assurances that all the measures won’t exceed prepandemic levels of about $1.47 trillion.

In an effort to break the impasse, Republican leaders granted far-right lawmakers multiple opportunities to offer amendments to the legislation, but that was not enough to entice them to back the party on a procedural vote needed to bring up the bill. Leaders then gave up for the time being, leaving their entire appropriations agenda up in the air and the risks of a shutdown rising.

“We are going to have a shutdown,” said Representative Ralph Norman, Republican of South Carolina and a member of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, which is pressing for steeper cuts. “It’s just a matter of how long.”

Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina and another of those standing in the way of the spending legislation, said he had no intention of budging until he received guarantees on spending.

“I’m not going to abide or cast a vote in favor of just continuing the massive increases in the debt spending and just keep rolling,” said Mr. Bishop, who blamed the situation on Republican leaders. “It’s just incomprehensible to me that there is such a deficit of leadership that they can’t put up a plan.”

Darkening the landscape even further, the Senate hit its first obstacle on Thursday in what had been a smooth and bipartisan process, when Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, held up an agreement on consideration of three spending bills that came out of the Appropriations Committee with the unanimous support of both parties. A handful of Senate Republicans are raising objections to considering the three bills together.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Appropriations panel, said Mr. Johnson was preventing members of his own party from offering amendments to the legislation and the end result could be a year-end pileup of spending bills that many lawmakers find objectionable.

“We’re going to end up with either an omnibus, a government shutdown or a yearlong continuing resolution, which would fund programs that shouldn’t be funded anymore and prevent new programs from starting up,” said Ms. Collins, who said leaders were consulting with the Senate parliamentarian on a way forward.

With the annual spending bills hitting multiple snarls, lawmakers were pressing for leaders to begin focusing on a stopgap bill to keep the government operating past Sept. 30.

“It’s just a terrible outcome for everybody. It shows the dysfunction in Washington,” said Mr. Womack about a potential shutdown, adding that it “validates America’s lack of trust and confidence in its elected officials to be able to do its most fundamental duty, funding the doggone government.”

With the House paralyzed at least for the moment, rank-and-file members said they were engaged in preliminary conversations to fashion a stopgap spending bill that could draw support from both the far right and more mainstream Republicans. The aim was to assemble something that could pass the House and put pressure on the Senate to agree. But the kind of measure they were discussing, including spending cuts and new immigration restrictions, would be a non-starter in the Senate.

The breakdown in the House and Senate was drawing fire from leading Democrats in both chambers as they laid the groundwork for putting the onus on the Republicans.

“Our Republican leaders have to reject this MAGA Republicanism for the good of the country and the good of their party,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader.

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